Tales of Union Station Washington DC

by | Jun 2, 2018

Chapters of Union Station

The tales of Union Station are forever etched into history!

One of my travel obsessions is exploring Metro train stations. Often Metros are the most convenient way to explore a city and get to popular tourist attractions. 

Washington DC’s Busiest Train Station

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DC (District of Columbia) is the capital of free! No city provides as many world-class activities for free as Washington DC. With so much to see and do in a few days, the DC Metro is the ideal form of transport to get to the museums, National Mall, Memorials, the White House, Capitol Building and loads more.

Beside convenience, Metro stations offer visitors an opportunity to explore its history and capture the architectural beauty of these landmark buildings.

Union Station is the busiest station in Washington DC and an excellent location inside and out for photography, with its distinctive vaulted station ceilings, large white sculptures and impressive memorials.

The Statues of Roman sentinels line the walls inside the massive main concourse and give a presence of guardianship over the station.

Daniel Burnham,

World Renowned Architect

Union Station, a baroque-style building was designed by Daniel Burnham, who was the architect of the famous Flatiron Building in New York.

The station opened 27 October 1907 as the grand entrance to the growning capital of the United States of America. By the early 1940s, Union Station was the transportation hub for over 40,000 commuters a day and the main mode of intercity transport.

During the World War I years, the station moved as many as 200,000 people a day which impacted greatly on the overall condition of the station.

By the mid-1940s, a shift from rail to other forms of travel had a financial impact on the rail industry. Union Station and other stations in the Capital began to diminish in elegance and were in serious need of repair.

In 1964, the District of Columbia designated the building an historic landmark and in 1969 it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places; Columbus Plaza, located in the front of the station, was listed in 1980.

The Federal government took over the building in the mid-1960s in an attempt to create a centrally located National Visitors Centre for tourists to orient themselves to the capital. Due to poor design and lack of funding, the project failed soon after its opening in 1976.

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Disaster Strikes Union Station

In 1981, the building was partly closed by a leaking roof that crashed down in the main waiting area. The closure was a major disruption in travel for the growing number of Amtrak passengers. The station underwent a major renovation in the 1980s under the Union Station Redevelopment Act which cost over $160M.

The Act included:

  • Preservation of the exterior façade and other historically and architecturally significant features of the Union Station building
  • Restoration and operation of a portion of the historic Union Station building as a rail passenger station, bus terminal and transit centre
  • Development of a commercial facility within the Union Station complex, together with financial support to the continue operation and maintenance of the complex
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New Beginnings

The redevelopment saw the station reopen in 1988 to its former grandeur with 3 levels of retail space including a large food court in the basement. The station is now served by Amtrak, VRE, MARC, and Metro (red line).
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2011 Earthquake Damages Station

The DC metropolitan area was shaken by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August 2011 that damaged the Union Station historic ceilings in the Main Hall and Retail Concourse. A scaffolding system was designed to allow the public to continue to safely pass through the station while work progressed above.

After years of discussions between various bodies, it was decided that the fountain in the Main Hall and Centre café would be eliminated. Demolition commenced 1 March 2016 and restoration completed by May 2016.

Both elements had been added during the 1980s rehabilitation and were not original to the station.

Included in the restoration program saw the introduction of digital directories displaying arrival and departure information in the Main Hall and train concourse.

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Union Station Basement Food Court
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Interesting Facts

Today, more than 100,000 commuters and visitors pass through Union Station each day including passengers using Amtrak, Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) rail and Virginia Railway Express (VRE), Metro subway trains and buses, taxis, tourist buses, intercity buses and Capital Bikeshare.

The Beatles arrived at Union Station from New York City to perform their first North American concert at Uline Arena. The Arena is directly adjacent to the railroad tracks, just north of Union Station.

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Metrorail Experience

Metrorail provides safe, clean, reliable transit service for more than 600,000 customers a day throughout the Washington, DC area. The system is the second busiest in the United States, serving 91 stations in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia.

The Metrorail system has six colour-coded rail lines: Red, Orange, Silver, Blue, Yellow, and Green. The layout of the system makes it possible to travel between any two stations with no more than a single transfer.

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Metro Automated Ticketing Machines
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“Sometimes that light at the end of the tunnel is a train.”

Charles Barkley

If you enjoyed Tales of Union Station Washinton DC check out my other USA Posts. Below are a couple:

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